Authority Problems? Nah. But Don’t Tell Me What to Do!

We all know that kids rebel. But they aren’t the only ones.

Some of us have a hard time when others tell us what to do. We struggle taking direction professionally, we fume at advice in our personal lives, we resist anyone exerting control over our decisions, our actions, or what to think.

We have problems with authority figures.

Some people have no such issues. They’re fine with a mix of making their own choices, and cooperating with those in charge. They don’t see red when someone higher in the food chain makes a request or passes down a directive.

They aren’t defiant, resistant, or rebellious – at least, not without reason or provocation.

Problem With Authority Figures?

As for those who resent anyone in charge simply by virtue of their position of relative power, they may exhibit disrespect or disobedience.

WiseGEEK provides more on authority problems, explaining the serious consequences that can arise in situations many of us take for granted:

… While it is not unusual for people to chafe at authority from time to time, some people demonstrate a pattern of authority problems… [and] may, for example, have difficulty holding a job because they resent their superiors and become uncooperative at work… even if [the] boss is a reasonable person and is making reasonable requests.

Incidentally, a tendency to be overly compliant (submissive, fearful) also has its drawbacks.

Oppositional Defiant Disorder. ODD. Really.

Psychologists have a name for the phenomenon of children who persistently fight authority: ODD, or Oppositional Defiant Disorder.

I tend to think of rebelling against authority as natural in toddlers (in small measure) and more so in teens (to test limits and learn independence). I’ve never given much thought to kids who antagonize beyond the usual. But isn’t this a judgment call? A matter of degree?

I always encouraged my sons to question assumptions and stand up for themselves. This caused the occasional ruffled feathers, and I generally backed my boys’ right to protest or disagree… as long as they did so politely. Does that make me odd as a parent?

I note this psychological resource that differs from our usual tow-the-line approach:

… ODD young people, according to mainstream mental health authorities… have these so-called deficits in rule-governed behavior… Do we really want to diagnose and medicate everyone with “deficits in rule-governed behavior”?

I quite agree.

Rebelling Later in Life

What happens when rebellion strikes later than adolescence? Is it folly? A better-late-than-never exploration of person power, which we might view as an excess of “coming into one’s own?”

In the workplace, we may view those who resent authority as lousy team players – or mavericks.

(We’ve all known a few of those, haven’t we?)

Besides, there are many ways that people defy authority and it may be the “right” thing to do – pushing back against the boss who takes credit for your ideas, contradicting the manager who inadvertently misleads customers, taking on the Big Guns over sexual harassment you cannot abide.

Isn’t civil disobedience a sort of righteous rebellion against authority?

Midlife Crisis… Help!

And if you find yourself confronting an inexplicable transformation of the Previously Nice Guy into a contrarian you no longer recognize? If the behavioral change occurs after age 40, is it de facto a midlife crisis?

Whatever it is, you may be stalwartly trying to subdue it, to manage it, or to deal with being married to it. And thus the midlife crisis can strike fear in the hearts of many, and it isn’t necessarily about rebellion, per se.

Then again, we could easily expand the concept and tie it to this topic. Shall we have a little fun with our ODD acronym? Overtly Defying Domesticity? Open Dalliance Dementia? Operational Discovery Directive?

Are any of these (midlife) states odd, really? If you’re yearning for freedom and feel you’ve never quite had it, if you sense your youth is slipping away (or gone), if you’ve been under the thumb of an authoritarian spouse, if you’ve spent years in a dead marriage (waiting for empty nest), if you’ve always been “the nice guy” or “the good girl” and you’ve simply had enough – can’t we sympathize?

Do You Like to Be Told What to Do?

Do you like it when someone tells you what to do?

Tone matters. So does context. Naturally, who is doing the telling influences our response.

When my kids tell me I’m being unreasonable, I grumble, but I listen. When a close friend tells me what to do, I’m quiet and I listen – more carefully if I’ve asked for their input. When anyone else tells me what to do (or tries), I consider roles, motivation, and hidden agendas. In personal situations, delivery may be the deciding factor in how I react.

I admit, I afford my sons more latitude in this arena than Any Other People On The Planet. And that is because I trust their intentions, the quality of their observations, their competence, and the nature of our relationship. Likewise, when they challenge me (which they do routinely), I find nothing “odd” about it. In fact, I respect the process. For me, this makes sense.